Can I divorce in the UK?

One of the first questions I get asked by UK expat clients is “can I divorce in the UK?” In the vast majority of cases the answer will be “yes” but I would have to explore their particular circumstances in more detail before being able to give conclusive advice.

We refer to the United Kingdom for convenience, the jurisdiction to which I refer is the courts of England & Wales. Both Scotland and Ireland have their own legal systems.

The issue of jurisdiction can be complicated particularly if you are living in Europe as legislation brought into place by a European directive known as Brussels II affects English law.

However the English Courts would have jurisdiction if either spouse is:-

a) domiciled in England & Wales when proceedings are commenced or,

b) habitually resident in England & Wales for a period of one year ending on the date when proceedings are begun.

You don’t have to be physically present in England to divorce. I would be able to finalise all of the paperwork and progress matters through the courts on your behalf including if your spouse is also overseas. By way of example, a British couple married in London but now living and working in Hong Kong. Both are almost certainly still domiciled in England and so would be able to issue proceedings here. If both consent to the divorce it is very unlikely that either spouse will have to attend court.

Is it better to issue in England?

I refer to my blog in August 2010 (Record divorce payout) and the great debate between lawyers around the world as to where to issue and the divorce tourist that Lord Thorpe refers to but in all honesty it would depend upon your individual circumstances. There are a number of international jurisdictions that do not provide for ongoing periodical payments ie spousal maintenance. In such circumstances a wife could be advised to issue in England where such provision applies. In many countries the Community of property applies where you both own it 50/50.

However through an extensive network of international contacts I am able to help clients decide which would be the best jurisdiction for them if they do have a choice.

As you would expect with the law there are many aspects which complicate matters but if in doubt please ask me immediately as there can be a need to issue quickly as your spouse may not agree and it would be better to issue in another jurisdiction which may also be available.

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